The Daily Telegraph
But, as the English author Francis Spufford writes: “Peace is not the norm; peace is rare.”
In 2017, we’ve been wondering whether we in Australia are within range of North Korea’s Kim Jong-un’s weapons, as his missiles have been flying over Japan.
We’ve had the unceasing round of terrorist attacks across the globe.
And we’ve been hoping that US President Donald Trump’s diplomacy by Twitter is not taking us to the brink of world conflict.
What’s more, we know bitter conflict all too well from more personal experiences of it.
Just ask a family law solicitor what the disintegration of a marriage can be like, or recall the pain of office politics, or a neighbourhood struggle to the death over property boundaries.
Perhaps the Christmas dinner table — supposedly a moment of family togetherness — will be another round of the decades-long war between those two aunties of yours.
A dying man once said to me: “I’ve prayed for peace on earth for 60 years. Why does it never happen?”
However much we hope and pray for peace on earth, it seems frustratingly elusive.
One problem is that when we try to make peace, we do so by finding a winner and loser.
Inevitably, one side slinks off in bitter resentment, and the hostilities resume.
Is the Christmas declaration of peace empty, since we human beings seem so addicted to fighting one another?
The Bible has a very particular diagnosis of why this is so. Our lack of peace with one another is a symptom of our lack of peace with God.
And it gives us that profound sense in ourselves that we are not at peace.
What’s the remedy?
We need to understand what Christ was about, for without him, the Christmas spirit proves to be nothing but a ghost. We’ll come to that in a moment, but first we need to understand what the Bible means by “peace”, or “shalom”.
It’s worth using that wonderful Hebrew word, which Jews use as a greeting because it’s a much richer word than our word “peace”. (Arabic speakers say “salaam”, which is the same word.)
Shalom is not simply the cessation of hostilities.
Shalom is when everything is in harmony with God, and so with everything else.
Shalom means that everything and everyone in the creation is doing what it’s made to do, playing its part like the players in a great orchestra producing beautiful music.
Shalom is the way everything is supposed to be. The divine vision for peace is not just universal, it involves the universe.
And shalom on earth — the Christmas good news — begins when there is an armistice between human beings and God. That’s where Christ, the Prince of Peace, comes in. What is it that he does to bring shalom?
Peace with God comes because the Prince of Peace reconciles us to God on the cross.
His victory does not mean our defeat; but he makes his victory our victory too. In himself he has absorbed human hostility against God, and now a truce has been declared. And what are the terms? Do we have to pay?
At end of World War I, Germany was forced to pay reparations to the value of $US33 billion.
It was a crushing burden that contributed to the rise of Nazism and the bloodbath of World War II.
But even though we are the rebels against God, it is not we who pay for the peace.
The Prince of Peace bears the cost himself, in himself, so that God’s peace — his shalom — may be ours.
And it’s not just peace that he brings, it’s shalom: that deep experience of the harmony of all things with their creator and between all things.
And through all this, you and I are invited into a deep experience of God’s shalom.
To know it in ourselves — “the peace which passes all understanding” as the New Testament calls it.
If we know truly that God’s peace in Jesus Christ — the Christmas shalom — and invite it into our very souls, we will become God’s agents for peace in a troubled world.
Peace on earth begins with the piece of earth on which you stand.
“Blessed are the peacemakers,” said Jesus. It is not just up to the diplomats and politicians.
It’s too easy to blame them for war while we fail to recognise the conflict and unrest of our own lives.
Bringing about shalom is something that can start with us and in us.
If we really want to see a bit of Christmas cheer, we can seek to make peace a reality on Earth — in our families, in our neighbourhoods, and in our workplaces, as well as between nations.